Tuesday, November 18, 2008

House Fire near 13th & Quebec

I woke this morning to the sound of sirens. Not necessarily an unusual event, but the fact that I kept hearing more and more of them as I tried to snooze myself into an extra hour of sleep was a clue that this was not just your usual city morning.

The giant billowing cloud of smoke over the institution at 11th and Spring was another clue. A townhouse on the block of Quincy Quebec between 13th/Kansas and 10th Street was on fire. It was all smoke when I went by, and appeared to be mostly under control. Let's hope everyone was able to get out OK.

Here are a few pictures, more here on flickr.


Prince of Petworth story on the fire.

WUSA-9 Woman Dies In 2 Alarm Fire

ABC News 9:59 AM, body found in the house.

WJLA-8, 11:56 AM Deadly Townhouse Fire in Northwest Claims One Victim

Washington Post 12:19 AM, Body Found in Northwest Rowhouse Fire

City Paper City Desk 1:11 PM Two-Alarm Fire on Quebec Place , NW

Fall Fire">


From 11th Street


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Now even the Brits are talking about Petworth...

A couple other DC blogs have already noted this, but I thought it was worth pointing out here. Financial Times ran an article about Petworth on Saturday, noting in particular the good housing stock, central location, and bang for the buck.

“I like the size of the houses and I need all the outdoor space for my dogs,” [Angela Vassallo, a DC epidemiologist] says. “You get the most living for the price in DC.”
This mostly residential area in the north-west quadrant of the city is enjoying a boom as buyers flock to its tree-lined streets, still affordable stock of sturdy single-family houses and old-neighbourhood feel.

The article is pretty positive but also notes the problems, including crime and trash. I think it's pretty dead on. What is most interesting is that the description of the neighborhood reminds me a lot of Mount Pleasant when I first moved there in 1996. Vacant houses, crime, exactly the same problems. But Petworth has many of the same advantages that Mt. Pleasant has:
  • It's close to, but not IN that action of the business district. In Mt. Pleasant, I could walk to Adams Morgan in about 15 or 20 minutes. My new house in Petworth is about the same distance to DCUSA and the Columbia Heights business district. But it's removed enough that you avoid the noise and traffic.
  • It's residential with lots of trees and few apartment buildings. Whereas Mt. Pleasant abutted Rock Creek Park, a wonderful location, my Petworth house is steps from Rock Creek Cemetery, a large, beautiful, and tranquil space, perfect for running or reading a book, and the Old Soldier's Home.
  • It's convenient for commuting. In Mt. Pleasant Rock Creek Parkway was right there, a great route out of town both to Maryland and Virginia. Petworth is similarly close to North Capitol Street -- driving to Silver Spring or Capitol Hill takes less than 10 minutes, it's a breeze to get in and out of town.
  • Public transit is also pretty good - I'm only about 12 minutes on foot to the metro, about the same or even a little less than my walk in Mt. Pleasant to the Columbia Heights metro. Many bus lines also serve the area.
Now I don't think that Petworth homes will be selling for $800,000 any time soon. But at the end of the day, it's the physical characteristics of a neighborhood that make it a desirable place for people to invest, to fix up houses, to take an interest in making things better. It's because they want to actually live there for what it is. This is why Mt. Pleasant turned around in the late '90s and early '00s. When I moved there in '96 there were a half-dozen abandoned houses on my block alone. I bought a four-bedroom townhouse for barely over $200,000. Many houses in Petworth are selling for not much more than today -- pretty amazing considering that it's 12 years of inflation later, not to mention the dramatic changes DC has seen in desirability, with the result that the population had actually started increasing after decades of loss.

I think Petworth will follow suit over the next 10 years for exactly the same reasons Mt. Pleasant became so popular. It's got great houses, it's affordable (for now), you can walk to transit or services in 15 minutes or less, it's convenient for car commuting, it's got a great community and neighborhood feel, and it's got wonderful greenspaces and rich history that make it a pleasant place to live.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back to Home Improvement... Petworth Edition

Ignoring the nagging doubts that festered in my gut like an undercooked McRib sandwich, I threw down half of my remaining cash for a down payment and bought another house. That's right, folks, while the stock market plunged to a place that had been forgotten seen since the previous century, and most people were buying gold and stuffing cash in their mattresses, I took out a second mortgage. The monthly mortgage payments on my two houses now equal 80% of my take-home income. Awesome.

But life is not without risks, eh? And the sucky housing market and economy are exactly the reason I decided to take this plunge. The house, a foreclosure, was a goddamn steal. It will be no trouble covering the mortgage with rent. At worst I should break even (which is basically making bank, since you have someone else paying the morgage on your house while it appreciates). At best I should clear a few hundred a month.

I put an ad on Craig's List yesterday to fill up the 3rd room in this house. Myself and a friend will be occupying the other two. I got two responses in the hour after I posted the ad. I got about 6 more last night. I think this will be a piece of cake to rent the room. The location is pretty good - 12 minute walk (about 6 blocks) to the Georgia Avenue/Petworth metro, residential street, and there's a little commercial strip a block away for picking up 40s.

Like any house I would buy it needs a little work, though this one is in WAY better shape than my current residence. It's perfectly livable as-is, though I will be taking care of some minor issues. Pictures below.

The Great Experiment

Because I am a super-green enviro-wizard, I have decided that house #2 or "PetProject" will be the subject of a great experiment in green renovating (and ultimate cheapness). My goal is to do all the work on this place -- and furnish it -- for less than $5,000 and using recycled fixtures, products, and building materials whenever possible. Since I'll be doing most of the work myself, that cost is largely materials, and if I need a new roof, the game is off. And I don't intend to do a crappy job - everything I put into this house must be of decent quality and in relatively good condition.

There are three primary components to this plan which, together, will make it possible:

  • Freecycle DC
  • Craig's List
  • The Community Forklift and The Loading Dock

The first is an awesome mailing list where people just give stuff away. A lot of the stuff that comes across the list is lame-- I mean, does anyone REALLY want a used toothbrush? But there are plenty of finds to be had every day, like appliances, furniture, anything. The Community Forklift and The Loading Dock (in Hyattsville and Baltimore, respectively) are recycled building supply warehouses. People doing renovations can donate what they tear out and get a tax writeoff, and then people like me can go and buy the used stuff for pennies on the dollar. Great place for doors, windows, cabinets, tiles, you name it.

In just one week's time, I have already acquired the following:
  • Washer and dryer - $140
  • Toilet - approx. 1 year old - free. This will go into a new 1st floor powder room.
  • Vintage sink with new, quality fixture - replace existing ugly bathroom sink with broken fixture - $60 from The Loading Dock
  • Small sink - free - for powder room
  • Eight bar stools - free
  • Brass chandelier, 5-light, excellent condition - free
Sure - it requires a little running around. But almost all of the free stuff was within a 10 minute's drive of either work or home and required far less time than a trip to Home Depot.

I'm going to set up a page with a running list of everything I've bought or acquired and the cost for this house to see how it goes.

No, I don't plan to keep the fridge in the dining room.

The kitchen definitely needs a little TLC. And a dishwasher.

Bathroom? Check. Interesting note... there is no shower upstairs!! Apparently, everyone showered in the basement for the last 92 years. That is high on the list.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The people have spoken: Goodbye, Frank!


The reign of terror is finally over. And I'm not talking about Bush's wagon train a-leavin'. That's great and all, but what really matters is that Frank Winstead will no longer terrorize business owners, UPS truck drivers, and indigent Ping Pong players on Connecticut Avenue.

That's right, kids, the people have spoken and the witch is dead! The blight of Forest Hills Frank, soon-to-be-former SMD 3F04 ANC Commissioner has been voted back under the rock from which he came. The man who once accused the owner of Comet Ping Pong of "encouraging murderers and rapists,", by nearly a 3 to 1 margin, has been given the finger. Residents of Forest Hills decided that they didn't want a busybody making things suck any more between Chevy Chase and Van Ness. At least, not suck any more than they already do.

Let us all have a moment and reflect upon this important victory for the people of Washington, DC. Yes, we actually do give a crap what you ANC comissioners do with your petty power! While most ANC commissioners run unopposed - because it's a crappy, unpaid job with little actual influence - in the wrong hands, even a little power can be dangerous. You can go too far. And Frank did. So a hero named Tom Whitley decided to step in and run against him, and crushed Frank and his petty meddling into oblivion. Thank you, Tom! You truly are the greatest American hero. This great day in national and local political history will not soon be forgotten.

A history of the saga:

11/5/08 - City Paper City Desk - So Long Frank Winstead?

9/2/08 - Marc Fisher, Washington Post - Anti-Ping-Pong Commissioner To Run Unopposed?

8/22/08 - Washington Post - Comet Amps It Up Again

6/18/08 - Marc Fisher, Washington Post - D.C. Official: Outdoor Seats At Pizza Place Will Mean Rapes and Murders

6/16/08 - ANC 3F Meeting Official Audio Recordings - hear Frank go wild yourself!

5/8/08 - Farm Fresh Meat - Frank Winstead's Secret Life

6/24/08 - Brightest Young Things - From Ping Pong & Pizza to Rape & Murder

6/24/08 - City Paper City Desk - Confronting Frank Winstead

6/19/08 - City Paper City Desk - Frank Winstead Gone Wild: The Recordings

6/18/08 - DCist - Small victory for Comet Ping Pong

6/16/08 - Brightest Young Things - Comet Pizza Needs Your Help Tonight!

5/29/08 - DCist - Politics and Prose Jumps In Sidewalk Fray

5/8/08 - Farm Fresh Meat - Unraveling the Mind of "Forest Hills Frank"

5/8/08 - DCist - Outdoor Ping Pong at Comet is Dead

5/8/08 - Marc Fisher, Washington Post - Saving Sidewalks From the Evils of Ping-Pong

5/3/08 - Federalist Paupers - Ping Pong Rally Needed

7/18/07 - DCIst - Ping Pong Safety Concerns Us All

The one that started it all:

7/17/07 - Grammar.police - Pong

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting begins... long lines in DC

The line outside the C. Melvin Sharpe school on 13th and Allison Streets NW, about 8:30 AM. My polling station is farther south on 13th Street where I will be a little later on this morning, when hopefully the lines are less frightening.

By the way... DO NOT vote for that Calvin Gurley chap who's flyer is taped to the Do Not Enter sign. That in itself is surely illegal, which is not surprising, because that fine citizen decided it would be a good idea to drop not one but THREE copies of that flyer on every single doorstep as far as the eye could see in my neighborhood. Even China Garden and Pizza Mart, who regularly leave their unwanted flyers at my house, have the decency to either stick them through the mailslot, or at least leave them somewhere remotely safe from wind. This fine specimen just threw them -- three copies of his 8 1/2 x 11 glossy flyer, so everyone in the household has their own copy to peruse, in case we didn't see 873 of them blowing around on the sidewalks -- on the first step of my porch stairs.

Guess what Columbia Heights looked like after the wind had been blowing for a few hours?

Obviously, this man represents the "trash our sidewalks" platform for City Council. Here's a big "eff-you" to Calvin Gurley. And hopefully a fine for violation of election and littering laws.

UPDATE: Since I didn't even read this idiot's flyer, I didn't notice before, but if you zoom the picture you will notice he's running for Ward 4 city council! I don't live in Ward 4. I live in Ward 1. Spring Road is the southern boundary of Ward 4. Great. So I have a jackass distributing flyers in my neighborhood to people who can't even vote for him. Furhther, he is not listed in the "DC Voter's Guide" as a candidate, which means he didn't even bother to submit a statement.

Oh yeah - also, please don't vote for Michael Brown for at-large city council. This jerk has been papering cars for weeks. His littering crimes are only slightly less than those of Calvin. And I hear he has been robo-calling people incessantly. I've luckily been spared that offense, but automated campaign phone calls are unforgivable.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama's Lead-Free Sex Toys

This seems to have become a rarely-updated political commentary blog. I'm sorry, it's just that it's so easy to find funny stuff to write about when skimming the news. Whereas writing interesting things about my own crazy life takes a lot of time to carefully edit details, names and places to that nobody can figure out that I was in fact the one who... oh, never mind.

So I was listening to this recording of Sarah Palin being prank-called by a comedy duo from Canada (is there anything those crazy Canucks won't do?). Which is pretty hilarious, if moderately painful. I mean, despite the fact that she's very frightening as a possible leader of the free world, her accent is really cute and you kind of feel bad for her. It's the moral equivalent of hoodwinking a 13 year old girl into giving you her allowance.

But what really cracked me up was the summary of other headlines that appeared on MSNBC at the bottom of the story:

How the hell do we use sex toys, lead-free or not, for voting? What is Obama's sinister election day plan...

This could be the shocker the GOP has been waiting for in the 11th hour.